Spreading The Disease

Anthrax

Megaforce / Island Records, 1985

http://anthrax.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/05/2000

Sometimes, how I choose to review an album on these pages is a strange process. Maybe it's because I hear a certain song on the radio or I watch a special on VH-1, and a fire is lit under me to pull one of that artist's albums out of the Pierce Memorial Archive.

In the case of Spreading The Disease, the 1985 major-label debut from thrash metallers Anthrax, it came about because of an eBay auction I won. I had bid on a lot of 10 tapes in the hopes of landing an Overkill album I didn't own (I'm still trying to get my filthy little paws on Feel The Fire), and a copy of Spreading The Disease happened to be part of the bunch. It also assured me that I didn't have to go sorting through the vinyl to find this album.

This disc was a transitional one in more ways than moving up from an independent label for the band. Previous vocalist Neil Turbin had been replaced by Joey Belladonna - a move which seemed right for the band. (They also tested out the new line-up with an EP, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Armed And Dangerous.)

But you can feel a little bit of uncertainty in the air of this music, as the band - Belladonna, guitarists Scott "Not" Ian and Dan Spitz, bassist Frank Bello and drummer Charlie Benante - tried to find what niche the band belonged to in a musical field that was starting to get crowded.

The first thing that strikes me about this album, even 15 years after it first appeared, is that you can understand almost every single word that Belladonna sings. It's almost as if the band decided that his vocals would be mixed to the forefront stronger than many bands. What's magical about this is that it doesn't take away any of the power from any of the other instruments.

The second thing that hits you is that Anthrax isn't singing anthems to demons or witty ditties about getting laid. If anything, their music tended to make you think. Sure, there were moments of abandon, even in the more cerebral songs, but here was a band singing about Greek mythology ("Medusa"), positive thinking ("S.S.C. / Stand Or Fall") - and even about the Holocaust in a way that left no doubt as to its horrors ("The Enemy"). It was a bold move - and it works well.

Musically, Anthrax was just as capable as their thrash brothers (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer), even though their popularity was never quite as high as the other named bands. Spitz whips out many a tasty solo on this album, while Ian's rhythm guitar work provides a solid backbone (along with Bello's bass riffs and Benante's powerful double-bass work).

Yet, in a sense, Spreading The Disease seems like a disc whose full ambition was left unfulfilled in a few ways. For every killer track like "A.I.R." there's a song like "Aftershock" that doesn't quite live up to its potential, nor does it seem to fit in with the prevalent songwriting motif. And, as stated before, Anthrax was still discovering what they had in Belladonna - a discovery that would manifest itself one album later on their breakthrough disc, Among The Living.

By no means is Spreading The Disease a bad album; I loved it when I first bought it back around 1987, and I'm having a hard time taking it out of my car's cassette deck these days. It's well worth your time and effort, but in retrospect, it seems to be only a hint at what was to come from this band.

Rating: B

User Rating: A-


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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Megaforce / Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.